“I heard he cut off Lord Brayton’s head himself, even after Her Majesty ordered he live,” I heard Cassidy Mainer whispering to Annabeth Weirs, two girls my age, as we walked into the Manor ballroom, “and that’s why he had to leave Dovetail.”
“I heard she found him in her cousin’s bed,” Annabeth giggled. I pressed my lips into my mouth. “And insisted he be dismissed from the guard.” Tristan was standing beside his grandfather, looking what to most probably seemed stoic, but I knew was likely him trying to mask awkwardness. “Not that I blame her.”
“The Queen or her cousin?” Cassidy giggled.
“Both,” Annabeth said, “or either. Gods, he’s perfection.” We reached the room and I made eye contact with Tristan.
“Caro!” Emily exclaimed running excitedly up to me. “Come on, Alex said Sir Tristan is going to open the dancing.”
“With Mistress DuFrey and you, surely,” I said. It was what made the most sense. I was fond of Charlotte Dufrey, for all that she was ten years older than us, she was always kind. Tristan walked over and smiled at me. Cassidy looked at him. “Sir Tristan,” I curstsied.
“Miss DuKarras,” he bowed, “I apologize, perhaps I should have sent a note?” I smiled at him. “I’m being unspeakably rude. Commander Trisstan Dugarry,” he nodded to Cassidy and Annabeth.
“Oh,” I said, “this is Miss Cassidy Mainer and Miss Annabeth Weirs. What would this note have entailed?”
“That I’d like to dance with you, first, if you don’t mind,” he explained, “Charlotte isn’t feeling well and retired early.” I smiled.
“I’d be honored,” I said softly. He nodded.
“Ladies,” he bowed to Cassidy and Annabeth, and quickly departed. They both looked at me.
“Are you serious?” Annabeth’s voice was so high pitched I could barely hear it. I shrugged as non chalantly as I could. Cassidy’s mouth was still hanging open in disbelief. “How do you know him?”
“Alex came by to call on me,” Emily explained, “and Sir Tristan came with him. Then we came to dinner here last night.” She looked deeply proud, “I should find Alex, at that.” She bounced away.
“Is he courting you?” Cassidy managed. Unlike Annabeth’s shriek this was more of a disbelieving hiss.
“It isn’t that serious yet,” I said shaking my head. “From my understanding he’s quite shy is all, so because we were introduced,” I shrugged again. “Excuse me.” I walked over to the front of the room, feeling like I had clouds under my shoes. Tristan smiled at me. “How did you know to do that?”
“Oh,” he said, “well, I saw you standing there, looking absolutely lovely, by the way,” I blushed, “and I saw those two whispering and I know the type.” He looked down. “You seemed to need a rescue.”
“They’re furious,” I admitted. He chuckled. “I was certainly not supposed to be the one you noticed first.” He looked at me and then back across at Annabeth and Cassidy. “Are you prepared for jealousy and rumors as part of our little game here?”
“After nearly a lifetime under Brayton,” he offered me his hand as the music started, “I think I can handle it.” I smiled as we danced. “I plan to pump them for information about you when I’m forced to dance with them.”
“Mm,” I nodded. “You will be deeply reassured that I’m nothing special. Also, that I’m shy and snobbish,” I shrugged.
“Well, then we have lots in common,” he said. “I am stoic and stand offish, and have been instructed many times to remove the stick from my,” he cleared his throat and I giggled. “Regardless, I’m happy to be of help.” I looked at him.
The music started, and he took my hand and started the simple steps. Emily giggled as Alex danced with her. I looked over at Cassidy and Annabeth. Cassidy was still staring daggers at me, while Annabeth had started scanning the room for open partners.
“Can I call on you?” He asked as we finished. “Alex tells me this is what I’m supposed to do next.” I smiled and nodded.
“It is, and you certainly can,” I said, “what would be next in Dovetail?” He grinned sheepishly at me.
“My experience was atypical,” he admitted. “But it amounts to the same,” he kissed my hand, “spending time together.” I nodded.
“You should see to your other guests,” I said and started walking away.
“Carolina,” he called after me, I turned, “Do you have a favorite flower?” I smiled widely.
“Yellow roses,” I said softly. He nodded. I stepped out onto the balcony and pressed my hands against my face, which felt unbearably hot.
“So I’ve done well,” I rolled my eyes seeing Alex appear next to me. “Grandfather is thrilled.”
“We all live to please your grandfather,” I said. He nodded. “You shouldn’t neglect Emily.”
“Emily couldn’t possibly care if I spend five minutes on you,” he pointed out. I frowned. “Is Tristan not a big enough sacrifice to absolve me?” I looked at him.
“I forgave you a long time ago, Alex,” I said. “Now you just irritate me,” he smiled and leaned against the railing.
“I kissed you here,” he smiled.
“I remember,” I said softly. “I was so embarrassed.” He nodded. “Don’t break my sister’s heart, Alex.”
“For you,” he whispered and pushed a hair off my forehead. “Anything.” I swallowed and looked away and walked inside. Tristan had been swarmed. I giggled as he sent me a pleading look.
“Miss DuKarras?” A page walked over.
“Yes,” I said. He handed me a small box and I opened it, revealing a clearly hastily cut yellow rose with a white ribbon ties around it. “Thank you,” I whispered. He nodded and left. I smiled and stuck the flower into my sash. It didn’t quite go with the soft pink of my gown, but I couldn’t bring myself to care.